It’s as captivating as a fidget spinner.
And definitely more useful.
I’m talking about French, if you can believe it.
You and your kids might associate language learning with textbooks and exams. But there’s actually a ton of catchy, fun French learning material out there for kids that’ll hold their attention while helping them develop skills that’ll last a lifetime—if you can just get them to put that spinner down for one minute!
Many of these materials are affordable or even free, and easily accessible online. So no matter where you are, you’re in a great position to help the kids in your life become bilingual and more culturally aware.
We’ll show you eight effective but fun options for kids to start learning French right now!
Why Should Kids Learn French?
- It’s often easier to learn a new language at a young age. Anyone who’s tried learning French as an adult can attest to how challenging it is. Kids’ brains are generally better at processing and absorbing new languages without conscious effort.
- It’ll build their key emotional capacities. Emotional intelligence is a term used to describe the interrelated capacities in perceiving, expressing, understanding and regulating emotion. Some studies show that learning another language helps children build empathy, which is a primary component of emotional intelligence.
- It can increase their understanding of culture. Cultural competency is the ability to communicate effectively with individuals from a diversity of cultures. Learning French certainly equips kids with the mechanics to communicate in another language, but it can also expose them to new perspectives and help raise their awareness of other cultures.
- It allows them to communicate with a larger cross-section of people. While English has become a widely spoken language worldwide, having the ability to communicate with French speakers in their native tongue allows for more relationships and experiences—and we’re not just talking about in France. Native French speakers live all over the world, from North America, to Africa, the Pacific, Europe and the Caribbean.
French is the official language in 29 countries, not counting a number of other areas of the world with significant French-speaking populations. Now that’s a round-the-world trip!
- It provides opportunities down the road. We all want the kids in our lives to be successful and fulfilled. And in today’s global economy, bilingualism is a major asset for job-seekers. When your child becomes fluent in French, it can expand their professional opportunities down the road.
In fact, almost every single job I’ve ever had was because I spoke French (even if it wasn’t in the job description).
- French and English language development work together. Some parents might be concerned that learning another language will confuse or delay their child’s English language development, but there’s actually no need to worry.
Although bilingual children tend to start speaking later than monolingual children, they still begin speaking well within the normal range and are able to switch languages depending on their conversation partner.
- It makes it easier to learn other languages. Learning French early will equip kids with skills and knowledge that can apply to learning other languages. If your child has learned French, they’ve already acquired some strategies that work for them. In addition, there may be cross-language similarities that make vocabulary and comprehension easier.
How to Introduce French into Kids’ Lives
So now that you’re sold on all of the benefits of children learning French, how do you start the process? My suggestion is to incorporate French at home in simple ways. Here are a few language topics that provide an easy entry point:
- Food: Start by referencing common food and meal-time vocabulary to give kids context. Not only is this the simplest way to start introducing French at home, but you’ll also be teaching your kids commonly used words. Par exemple (for example): le petit déjeuner (breakfast), le repas (meal), le yaourt (yogurt) and la cuillère (spoon).
- Manners: These are some of the first words that kids will start learning in both an English and a French context. Ask children to start using merci (thank you), s’il te plaît (please, informal) and de rien (you’re welcome) in day-to-day conversations.
- Colors: When I was in the first grade, I learned a song that taught me the colors of the rainbow in French. I still use this song when I’m trying to remember the order of the colors that make up a rainbow. (No joke!) Once kids have a good grasp of colors, you can start attaching them to the food names that they’ve already learned: la pomme rouge (the red apple), l’abricot orange (the orange apricot), etc.
- Common places: It’s important to provide context for vocabulary, otherwise it’ll go in one ear and out the other. It’s for this reason that learning the names of common places or things that kids encounter daily can be so helpful, whether it be l’école (school) or l’autobus (bus).
If they have a visual cue that they encounter multiple times a day, this will bring the word to mind and help it stick.
- Label household objects with Vocabulary Stickers: This is a tried-and-true language learning method for students of all ages, so both you and your kids can take advantage. Vocabulary Stickers are colorful, durable labels that’ll let you mark almost any object in your home with the equivalent French word. That way, you’ll be learning French vocabulary naturally and in context, as opposed to rote memorization of boring word lists.
Better yet, Vocabulary Stickers are color-coded based on the grammatical gender of each noun. Gender is one of the hardest elements of French for native English-speakers, and this extra layer of association will make it much easier for your kids (and you!) to tackle.
Once you’ve got your kids’ feet wet with some basic French words, it’s time to dive into some more comprehensive strategies.
French for Les Petits: 8 Great Ways for Kids to Learn French
Traditional methods such as French immersion and private tutors remain popular, but these require an investment of time, effort and resources. If you’re not ready to take that plunge, or if you’d rather try out a few other strategies, there are lots of options. Different kids will be receptive to different approaches, so make sure to try out a few, or rotate according to your needs.
1. Use Diverse French Learning Materials
One effective way of learning French is by utilizing materials that come in multiple formats. Not only does this keep your wallet in check, but it also allows kids to quickly become familiar with stories and characters (making them less reluctant to watch or read in French) and holds broader appeal to many learning styles.
- Barbapapa: Barbapapa takes your kids on a French-language adventure with a pink animated blob and other characters of varying shapes, sizes and colors. What are they, exactly? No one really knows, other than that barbe à papa, which the word barbapapa resembles, means cotton candy.
They’re a family of characters that started in a book and later evolved into a TV show. You can access video clips, interactive books and games through the Barbapapa website.
- “The Adventures of Tintin:” Tintin is a favorite comic for kids worldwide, and it remains one of the most popular comics in Europe. Since it was first penned, it’s been reimagined in many TV shows and movies.
Kids of all ages will enjoy following the wild stories of Tintin as he traverses the globe, and there’s no shortage of them! Tintin can be purchased, in its many formats, directly from the official Tintin website. There’s even a section of books made especially for kids.
- Pomme d’api: This French magazine, whose title refers to a variety of apple, produces materials for kids from one to 18. They also offer parent resources and activity guides to accompany their materials.
Characters from popular French books like “Petit Ours Brun” (“Little Brown Bear”) can also be found within Pomme d’api issues.
2. Use Flashcards for Learning On-the-go
Busy family? This is a great way for your child to learn French on-the-go and in the spare moments of the day, like sitting on the bus or waiting in the doctor’s office. It can be adapted for a variety of ages and skill levels.
Don’t want to carry flashcards with you? There’s an app for that! French Flashcards for Kids will teach them the basics while holding their attention with fun, colorful animations.
Feeling crafty? Make your own flashcards. The best part is that you’re killing three birds with one stone because you’ll be working on your own French, helping your child learn French and you can even involve your kids in making these cards too. Win, win, win!
Of course, you can go the traditional route and buy your own. There are many kinds available both in stores and online. Here’s one highly-rated set from Amazon.
3. Introduce Authentic French with FluentU
For many families, one of the biggest obstacles to raising bilingual kids is limited exposure to the language they’re teaching. If you don’t live in a French-speaking region, how will you ever get kids to use French the way native speakers do?
That’s where FluentU comes in.
If you’re always telling your kids to turn off the TV, FluentU is an awesome way to turn their favorite entertainment into productive language learning time. (You know what they say… if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!) Plus, FluentU offers built-in progress tracking tools so you can ensure that they’re moving forward in their learning. Give it a shot by signing up for a free trial.
4. Make Learning Fun with Tic Tac Boum
Board games are a fantastic learning tool for kids because they teach through repetition and structure, but without getting boring. Especially for those competitive little ones! They’re also a great option if you’re teaching multiple kids at once.
There are a number of games to choose from, but my top pick would be Tic Tac Boum (Tic Tac Bang), a board game that’s built around French vocabulary. You can play with a small or large group (between two and 12 players), and there’s both a junior and regular version, so your kid can graduate to the adult version of the game once they’ve outgrown the junior version. (And believe me—they’ll want to!)
In the junior version, players set a “bomb” and pick a card that describes a place (for example, sous la terre — underground). Each player takes a turn holding the bomb and thinking of a word that fits in that category before passing the bomb to their neighbor.
In the regular version, the game becomes a bit more complex as players pick a card with a specific syllable (for example “tou”) and they pass the bomb around thinking of a word that incorporates that syllable (for example, partout — everywhere).
5. Make Learning French a Family Activity
Kids have the best chance at success in learning French if they’re in an environment conducive to frequent practice. How do you do that?
- Make French the language of choice at home: Unless you live in a French-speaking area, kids are immersed in the dominant language of their community. The tendency will always be to revert back to their language of comfort, but try and avoid this.
If the child knows the French word, request that they use that word and don’t respond unless they do. This is the way my mother, not a native French speaker, raised bilingual children who still speak only in French to one another even though we all live in English-speaking areas.
- Attend events hosted by your local Francophile or Francophone community: Many moderately sized cities will have a French-speaking community organization. Through these organizations, you can be in-the-know about French plays, public book readings and other events.
There are several organizations that can connect you with these events. For starters, check out your local Alliance Française (French Alliance). Your local college’s language department might also be able to point you to French groups.
- Organize a French movie night: You can find French movies on Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and other online streaming services. You can also borrow them from the library, and French organizations will sometimes host screenings.
To start off, my personal selection would be “Les Triplettes de Belleville” (“The Triplets of Belleville”), which you can purchase on Amazon.
6. Read Fairy Tales in French
This can be an easy approach to helping kids learn French because it provides a sense of familiarity and comfort. Learning a language is hard, but if kids can latch onto a familiar character or storyline, they may be more likely to engage with a French book.
You can also get a feel for this approach by trying out the International Children’s Digital Library, which has hundreds of children’s books in a variety of languages. Just head to the search page, select “French” from the upper righthand menu and click the “Fairy Tales and Folk Tales” button.
Of course, you can borrow books from the library or purchase titles online. To get started, here are five French fairy tales that are great for language learners.
7. Enroll Kids in a French Course
This may sound a little intense, but for the kid who needs structure, a course can be helpful in jumpstarting their French. Here are two options:
- Online course: The pro of an online course for kids like PetraLingua is that it’s convenient, offered at a reasonable price and provides learning in a multimedia environment. That’s great for the kid who’s good on the computer and likes to learn through visual games and activities.
The con is that there’s less of a sense of accountability than with an in-person course, and less opportunity for verbal practice.
- In-person learning: If you live in the U.S., the Alliance Française is again a good option for finding courses. This is a great way to consistently and frequently immerse children in French. Another bonus is that they’ll make friends who are interested in French.
The downside is that courses can come at a greater cost and require a greater investment of time.
8. Listen to Kids’ Music in French
Ok, I’ve saved the easiest option for last. One final way of immersing your kids in French is to surround them with French music (this is also a good way to learn French yourself).
Not only does this help with pronunciation, vocabulary and familiarity with French, but it also requires very little effort on your part—and you may find yourself picking up some new words!
The problem? Most kids’ music is terrible. But fear not. I’ve chosen some music that your kids will love, and that won’t drive you too crazy. And because home is where the heart is, the majority are French Canadian music that my family and I enjoy:
- Madame Diva: You can purchase Madame Diva’s music on iTunes, and check out the videos on YouTube (linked from her site). Get ready for lots of folk-inspired music and imagery.
- Charlotte Diamond: “Je Suis une Pizza” (“I’m a Pizza”) is certified solid gold, but Charlotte Diamond has lots of other good music too, and it’s available in both French and English. Warning: this stuff will get stuck in your head. Also available on iTunes or through her website.
- “Allo Monsieur! French Canadian Children’s Songs:” Okay, this one takes a little bit more effort on your part, but it makes my list because it uses games to engage kids in the music. For example, one song involves children jumping rope to a beat, while another incorporates a ball-bouncing activity.
These songs are accompanied by instruction guides that explain how to incorporate the game as well as questions to ask children about the sound of French, the words and the rhythm.
Well, there you have it, Even if your child is resistant to learning French at first, there are a variety of strategies you can utilize to get and keep them interested. Believe me—they’ll look back on their childhood and be thankful for the language skills that they developed. This is one investment that yields many returns.
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